I knew I was back in the East when my laser alarm went off 12 miles into Ohio. After some time trying not to be a ticket machine the Highway Patrol turned up visible enforcement in the past few years. The real speed limit is a secret, of course, but apparently I was under it. The officer waited for the next victim and I resumed watching for bad drivers, which also appear somewhere around Ohio as you head east.
A week earlier and 900 miles to the west I had a much different encounter with law enforcement.
I ran over some road debris on I-90, hard to see in all the traffic headed to Sturgis. I pulled over on a shoulder in an area with poor cell phone coverage. I needed to plan. With no spare, my run-flat tire supposedly gave me 50 miles range at 50 mph before it would self destruct.
While I was head down with my phone trying to figure out what to do, a South Dakota Highway Patrol officer walked up beside me. He said there was a tire shop at the last exit. I told him I had to keep under 50 mph. He escorted me as traffic flew past.
After 20 minutes of slow driving and an hour waiting I was on my way with a new tire.
The officer knew where the tire shop was without having to look it up. The South Dakota Highway Patrol had 11,559 motorist assistance calls in 2017. Compare that to under 10,000 speeding tickets per year.
It’s a whole different driving experience once you get into the plains and mountains. Traffic is calmer, even when it is heavy, and you don’t have to spend so much time and energy watching for speed traps.
I can expect to see a speed trap per hour in the 65 zones in New York and Massachusetts. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in an 80 zone, and in 75 zones it’s more like once per day than once per hour. (By the way, if you do meet a cop you can get a ticket for going less than 10 over an 80 mph limit. The speed limit increase was meant to align law with reality, not to raise the speed of traffic.)
I admit, it helps to be a middle aged man in a nice but not ostentatious sedan. I look harmless. I remember reading about what might be the only black man in South Dakota getting pulled over for 68 in a 65. There’s a new book looking at racial disparities in traffic stops and I’ll be writing about it later this year.
But for most of us it’s a much better way to drive.
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